Thanks to a bug, Facebook amplified misinformation instead of penalizing it

Facebook’s News Feed management systems were out of order for six months, causing the company’s engineers to misunderstand.

For Facebook engineers, the machine got carried away without them being able to understand why. According to the American media The Verge, Facebook has experienced a major bug affecting its content classification systems for many months. The latter are supposed to distribute content deemed qualitative on the news feed of Internet users and limit the distribution of false or violent content. The company has confirmed the issue.

According to internal documents dating from the end of March and consulted by The Verge, a major bug was discovered by Facebook engineers in 2019, but did not cause its first effects until October 2021.

The consequence: posts designated as “fake” by Facebook’s “fact-checking” media partners have been amplified by Facebook instead of being “demoted”, with an increase in their audience of up to 30 %.

Facebook recognizes “inconsistencies”

After long weeks of misunderstanding, Facebook teams finally solved the problem, classified by the company as associated with the second most important level of crisis, on March 11, 2022.

Also according to internal documents, the bug also affected publications containing violent elements, nudity or even emitted by Russian media supposed to be sanctioned.

To The Verge, Facebook confirms that it has “detected inconsistencies in the demotion system (problematic content, editor’s note) on five occasions, resulting in limited and temporary statistical increases”.

The company adds that a software patch had been applied to remedy the situation.

This is not the first time that the content recommendation algorithm, which decides what is displayed or not on the news feed of billions of Facebook users, has caused misunderstandings among the platform’s teams.

In an internal report relayed at the end of 2021, engineers already mentioned their recurring misunderstandings about the functioning of these algorithms and the application of many very criteria to highlight certain publications.

If Facebook users theoretically have access to a chronological news feed, without algorithmic sorting, the latter remains difficult to access, hidden in the social network’s settings menus. Asked by BFMTV, Facebook did not wish to specify the number of users who had accessed this type of display.

Leave a Comment